This lesson can be shared with very young children OR upper elementary/middle school students.
I used the book The Rumor: A Jataka Tale from India by Jan Thornhill. It's still in publication. We checked it out of our local library.
There's lots of repetition and brightly colored illustrations which will instantly engage the very young child. But don't let Jan Thornhill's beautiful and simple retelling of the story deceive you. Here we have another Jataka Tale with an important lesson that can easily be overlooked as a story exclusively for little children.
The heroin (or should we say hare-oin) of the story is a worrywort. She allows her anxiety to take her away from reality without ever looking back. Her fears quickly spread to other creatures until a stampede of thousands is running without anyone stopping to question her words.
In the end, it's a young and wise lion who settles things down by simply investigating what he hears.
We took turns reading the story aloud before discussing the following questions:
What are some modern day examples of how we sometimes act like the hare?
- We talked about rumors at school... making assumptions about people out of fear or ignorance...
- The abuse of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar from Buddhists who have become so afraid of another religion overpowering theirs, that they voluntarily lay the teachings of the Buddha down to engage in acts of hate and violence...
- We talked about Black Friday shoppers, so concerned about getting a bargain that they neglect manners and special time with their families....
- One kid was reminded of the people in New York freaking out when they tuned in late to the War of the World broadcast...
Why is it so dangerous to let our minds be consumed by fear?
- The kids mentioned that it can cause us to make assumptions that aren't true.
- It can make us forget what's important.
- It can make it hard for us to see reality.
- It can endanger ourselves and others.
How can we turn off the anxious thoughts in our mind?
- We talked about meditation, especially focusing on our breath. This brings us into the present moment rather than what might happen in the future. Meditation helps us discipline our minds.
- I also reminded the kids about the Eight Fold Path that Buddha shared with us. By staying on this path, we are less likely to let our imaginations and emotions carry us away.
In many Jataka Tales, the Buddha is one of the characters. Who is the Buddha in this story?
How does he speak to them?
How does this story mirror the Buddha's teachings for us?
- Of course, the Lion is the Buddha in this story.
- He calms the creatures, investigates, and brings them to reality.
- He corrects them kindly. He is not harsh with the creatures. His concern is their well-being and he speaks to them with compassion and understanding.
- The Buddha's teachings help us to see things as they really are.
It made me happy to hear one of my students mention that she is very fearful at night and planned to start trying to meditate before she goes to sleep from now on.
With younger children the message can be simplified to one thought: Don't let your fears carry you away. This story also lends itself well to a little play. My youngest students love acting out stories. Simple paper headbands with different animal ears are all that's needed. Like all stories from the Buddha, as the children grow older this story will take on deeper meanings.
May all beings be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!